Busting out the story

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Puanani Burgess and Pua‘Ena Burgess, center, are surrounded by Waimea Canyon Middle School English language arts teacher Kileen Gilroy, second from left, and her fifth-period class, at the school Thursday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Pua‘Ena Burgess listens while her mother, Puanani Burgess, talks about the weather ball prompt during her visit to the Waimea Canyon Middle School seventh-grade English language arts classes Thursday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    Pua‘Ena Burgess and Puanani Burgess react while listening to Waimea Canyon Middle School student De’Allndrei Gonzales read his piece on hair Thursday during the Burgess visit to the school’s English language arts classes.

Expression is sharing, Puanani Burgess, a writer and activist from Honolulu, told Waimea Canyon Middle School students last week.

“Prompts,” Burgess said. “What we offer are prompts. The story is yours, and needs to be told.”

Puanani and her daughter, Pua ‘Ena Burgess, were guests of Language Arts teacher Kileen Gilroy.

“It is my goal to bring an outside writer to work with students,” Gilroy said. “These experiences can be life-changing. I also realize, as a new teacher and new to the island, there are limitations to teaching students their culture and history. However, throughout the year, I make it a priority to weave in Hawaiian texts into the curriculum to reflect the truth and human condition of where the students come from.”

Pua ‘Ena Burgess shared the story of a young student growing up in the Waianae area of Oahu, and being prompted by his teacher to search for his gift.

The WCMS students then created a variety of written works, including poems, journal entries and essays. Their expressions ranged from very powerfully emotional issues like searching for someone’s biological mother, to experiences on a pig hunt, and the more everyday experiences with hair, or even a game-changing play on the softball field.

Gilroy said her students are tasked with daily journal entries as prompts to story ideas and subjects for thought.

“This is like the young boy in Pua ‘Ena’s saga,” Puanani Burgess said. “What is your gift? The young man never forgot that question that pierced his heart, and after much thought, realized that his ‘gift’ was his ability to call fish from the ocean. That meant his family never went hungry because he could catch fish whenever he went to the ocean. His gift even saved his life when, one day, he encountered a shark while in the water. His gift allowed him to speak with the shark — ‘Eh uncle, I only need to take a little bit of fish. You can have the others.’”

The presentation tied in with Gilroy’s poetry project, in which students are creating a “Found Poem” based on a cultural belief, story, myth or folklore about a figure or phenomenon they identify with or are interested in.

“Our overriding question is, how can our Found Poems honoring ancient stories inspire the community?” Gilroy said. “I can’t teach the students the context or content of their culture, but I can help them understand that their voice, and story, matters.”

Puanani Burgess told the students that stories are a form of expression.

“Expression is sharing,” she said. “Sharing means it needs to bust out of your body.”


Dennis Fujimoto can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@thegardenisland.com.


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